Extreme poverty compels parents in Malawi to allow their daughters to marry at an early age. According to a 2010 United Nations survey, nearly half of the country’s female population get married before the age of 18. Most villagers considered child marriage as a stop-gap solution to solve poverty in Malawi.
Due to financial difficulties, parents would rather see their young girls get married rather than endure an impoverished life. They passed on the responsibility of caring for their child to her husbands. At the very least, they have one less mouth to feed.
Although the government decreed child marriage illegal in 2015, it remains as a culturally accepted practice in Malawi. This gray area allows the practice to continue for as long as the parents of the young girls give their consent.
Child marriage has devastating effects on children. Foremost, it violates their rights, and they are deprived of their childhood once given to early marriage. NGOs warned parents about the dangers of child marriage.
Childhood pregnancy put the lives of the young mother and her baby in danger since their bodies are too frail to give birth safely. Added to this, girls who are as young as seven-years-old, are sent to kusasa fumbi, a sexual initiation camp where they are trained to acquire sexual skills so that they could please their future husbands.
Enter Theresa Kachindamoto, a newly-elected woman village chief in Monkey Bay.
She had seen the horrors of child marriage and decided to put a brave stand against it. Displaying incomparable determination, Kachindamoto threatened to dismiss village leaders who continue to sanction child marriages.
She toured Monkey Bay and met with young girls with their husbands.
Chief Theresa Kachindamoto of the Dedza District in the central region of Malawi shares the story of her upbringing, the practice of child marriage in her country and her fight to eradicate it → https://t.co/DOSV4TTrt6 #IWD2019 pic.twitter.com/wMSM5KlIz2
— Google (@Google) 2019年3月8日
“Whether you like it or not,” declared Kachindamoto, “I want these marriages to be terminated.”
Kachindamoto has had enough of this culture that robbed young girls of their childhood. To date, she has annulled 850 child marriages and enrolled those girls to school. This statistic may seem like a small percentage for her constituency of around 900,000 people. But it is a promising start in the dismantling of this dark cultural practice in Malawi.
True to her warning, Kachindamoto removed four male chiefs from their positions for allowing child marriages in their areas. Fifty sub-chiefs agreed to end the practice and annulled existing child marriages in their domains.
Expectedly, she received resistance from sectors who opposed her policy. Yet, Kachindamoto remained committed to her mission despite death threats.
“I don’t care, I don’t mind. I’ve said whatever, we can talk, but these girls will go back to school,” the village chief said.
Going an extra mile, Kachindamoto is tapping resources to fund the schooling of the young girls she saved from early marriage. She even built a network of “secret parents” to make sure that the parents don’t revert to their old practice.
While the world cheers the caped heroes in Hollywood movies, this real-life hero is changing lives and transforming her society from within.
By Leo Almonte